Welcome back to another set review here on TCGplayer.com! As always, we will be bringing you a look at each and every card from Battle for Zendikar all week long.
Unlike normal though, we will be mixing it up a bit this time. While we have taken a "traditional" approach to set reviews thus far, this time around we are going to be focused on the Constructed and deckbuilding elements of the cards. In other words, welcome to the first Brew Review!
The idea here is to talk about various Constructed applications for each card in Battle for Zendikar. While not every card will inspire a brew, we will discuss potential brews where they do apply and maybe even include a decklist or two for some of the cooler cards in the set. In addition I will be giving everything a Constructed rating, but I will stress that we are going to be exploring a lot of ideas in this review and ideas are not captured by a number, so be sure to read up on your favorites from the set!
We are going to roll out a new scale that more appropriately accomplishes what we are looking for. Our review will focus first on Standard applications of the cards and then make nods to Modern and Eternal when it makes sense. Here is what we will be working with:
5 - These are true Constructed all-stars and will define one or more archetypes in loud ways or will simply be everywhere as their power is nearly unmatched in a format. Current examples of this include Siege Rhino, Thoughtseize, and Hangarback Walker.
4 - These are less defining than fives but are very close in power level. These tend to be the bread and butter of most Tier 1 Constructed decks. Examples include things like Sylvan Caryatid, Languish, and Stoke the Flames.
3 - These are powerful cards that tend to be more niche than the higher ranks, or are more utility-based. In general, when you go to start a Constructed decklist, you naturally begin with fives and fours as they grab our attention, but threes come in to fill in the cracks afterward. Examples include Anafenza, the Foremost, Soulfire Grand Master, and Satyr Wayfinder.
2 - These tend to require very specific environments or decks in order to have success, but they can still be very strong. Additionally, sideboard staples tend to fall in this category. I generally rate wacky cards that I am not exactly sure of in this space too. Current examples include Minister of Pain, Lightning Berserker, and Revoke Existence.
1 - This includes everything else. That is to say most cards that won't see any Constructed play fall here or the ones that pop up very infrequently for very minor jobs (usually out of the sideboard).
Angel of Renewal
This has a pretty big price tag attached to it, which makes playing it in fair ways less attractive. For six mana you can probably do better than a 4/4 flier and a few life. If you are looking to brew with this then you really want to stretch the limits of fair and try to do something absurd with it; cheating it into play is probably a good start.
This is basically a superior Stratus Walk which was perfectly playable. Cards that provide small value and replace themselves tend to see play in places where that small value is amplified. So this might work well in a heroic shell or in a deck that cares about auras. This is likely to be the best place to start:
4 Angelic Gift
4 Graceblade Artisan
4 Sage's Reverie
It can be really hard to find a home for creatures like this that have an ability that functions late in the game, but they themselves aren't very good in said late game. To Salvage any brew potential here, we have to resort to chucking this into an ally deck where it comes with other benefits, but even then, there are likely better alternatives.
There is no real way to abuse this and get more than the card offers you up front. Unfortunately, what it offers is pretty bad rate in terms of both body and the amount of life you gain, so I suspect this is not going to make many lists.
If you are looking for a build around to start your brewing with, Emeria Shepherd might just be the best place to start in the set. First of all, her ability is actually absurd. Bringing things back to your hand is fine, but directly into play is where things get crazy. Remember that the format is about to get a lot more colorful with a ton of mana fixing and whatnot, so sticking to a heavier white deck, or even mono-white, is going to be tough, but with an output like this, it also might be worth it.
Getting back big creatures is the most obvious direction here, but because this angel is already a creature, you do risk overextending into sweepers that way, so might I suggest looking at planeswalkers (like Ugin!) and other noncreature, nonland permanents.
Fogs are actually one of the more mundane card types to pay attention to for Constructed, as if there is ever a critical number of them in the format at a given time, then TurboFog, or Fog control decks, can actually be a thing.
This particular Fog is actually Safe Passage, meaning your creatures can do some work in combat after this has been cast and it also means it protects your planeswalkers. While the awaken ability isn't the most relevant thing, it will certainly come up. Just for a quick Fog check, here is where we are at in Standard:
Winds of Qal Sisma
Two-power creatures for one mana are usually going to be playable somewhere. We have not really seen a white weenie list in quite some time, but that could become a thing with warriors and allies both having a major force in the color over the last two sets. Being an ally makes this much more likely to see play as if there are enough Constructed playable allies in the next few sets, one with a cheap and solid rate like this is should definitely be considered.
Not necessarily a card you are going to brew with, but certainly a strong sideboard card. On occasion this will make maindecks, either due to metagame concerns or because they have a tutor engine and want access to this ability. Solid card, although nothing too exciting going on here.
This is one of my favorite build-arounds ever. I actually Top 8ed my first ever Limited Grand Prix by building a deck around this, Ondu Clerics, and Emeria, the Sky Ruin which was an amazingly fun deck to put together in Limited. In Constructed, getting to 40 life is much more realistic, although keeping a 4/6 for six mana around is less realistic, so if you are going to brew with this, I would first focus on how you plan to protect it and then look into the life gain elements after the fact.
This is a decent defensive card in the right environment although it is hard to get too excited about it in that context. Instead then, I suggest you look over to Assault Formation where you can actually brew a little here. There are a decent number of defenders in the format to start a deck with even:
4 Jaddi Offshoot
4 Assault Formation
4 Archers' Parapet
4 Fortified Rampart
4 Orator of Ojutai
4 Guardians of Meletis
That starting shell is a little clunky, but there are definitely enough defenders in green and white to get something going.
This card is Ghostly because you are never going to see it in Constructed.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
This is actually one of the cooler planeswalker designs in my opinion. Much like the original Elspeth, Gideon is not ticking down in loyalty unless you're using his ultimate or he's taking damage. Add to that that he can protect himself by creating 2/2s, and this is rather tough to deal with. Some amount of the time, you will simply use this for the Glorious Anthem emblem, which is awesome and simply adds to the versatility here. Remember that Gideon is an ally and makes allies, so I assume he will be considered for any ally tribal deck that might come about.
Expect Gideon to pop up in a variety of decks, but be best in more aggressive lists, similar to Sorin, Solemn Visitor. As far as Modern and older formats are concerned, Gideon is likely a little too underpowered for consideration.
While obviously a fine Limited card, I am not sure just how much Constructed play this might see. On the one hand, it is only a couple of mana, but on the other hand, its effectiveness drops off a ton in the late game. I suspect this will be an occasion sideboard option, but in terms of brewing, there isn't much here.
Hero of Goma Fada
This is an ally that brings with it a reasonable effect even outside of an ally shell. Indestructible for only a turn at sorcery speed isn't game breaking, but it could be used to help push your aggressive curve through. That said, you likely want to pair this with some other allies so that you can reuse the ability as a 4/3 for five mana is not the best reward for your investment after you get the trigger from this. If you can come up with an instant speed way to get this, or other allies into play, all of a sudden this goes from marginal to all-star.
For the same four mana as this, you could be investing in a Gideon which is going to permanently grant +1/+1 to everything, so you really need to be making use of the instant speed nature and that extra point of power to make this worth it. Most token decks or decks that go wide do appreciate a finisher, but this is a little too inconsistent and clunky.
Not an ally! As a result, this essentially has the same playability as Suntail Hawk, which is to say, not all that high. That said, Flying Men does serve a role as an extremely cheap evasive creature, so maybe if a deck abusing auras or something comes around, that is where you can find this a home.
This is an ally with a pretty nice rate and a pretty nice ability. If you compare this to Hero of Goma Fada, the ability will often result in similar things when done at sorcery speed as blocking your creatures becomes way more difficult, making an alpha attack that much more attractive. Because this is only two mana though, you can run it out early and get in damage while enjoying its ability triggered from other allies or other copies of itself. If there is some kind of ally based aggressive deck in Standard, this will almost certainly be key to it.
This one is an ally which could be important as we have now already seen a 2/1 for one mana and the previous card, Kor Bladewhirl, which is quickly forming a nice aggressive package, even if we ignore the more expensive Hero of Goma Fada.
4 Expedition Envoy
4 Kor Castigator
4 Kor Bladewhirl
3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
This is already a pretty decent start to a deck and we aren't factoring anything we haven't seen yet. Oh yea, Castigator also has some other text which might come up, but it's mostly just fluff.
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As much as I wanted to continue to chain of good allies here, this one just is not good. Five mana for such a mediocre effect is just not going to be good in Constructed, especially considering the five mana one with a much better effect is straddling the fence right now.
Well, it didn't take long to get back on track as we have another insanely strong aggressive ally here. You could actually play this in any deck as it is going to boost all of your creatures the turn you play it, but because allies are new and exciting, let's just throw this guy straight into the shell we already started.
4 Expedition Envoy
4 Kor Castigator
4 Kor Bladewhirl
4 Lantern Scout
3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Lifelink gives us a huge edge in any type of creature matchup that wants to race. With it and Kor Bladewhirl, our deck has a lot of tools against aggro and creature-based midrange while only being 19 cards!
White getting a near Giant Growth is pretty cool, but I am not sure what Constructed applications this might have. Heroic would have been a good fit for Standard, but I don't expect that deck to exist in Modern. If colorless stuff ends up being popular, then perhaps this could be a metagame call.
This is one of the allies that certainly does not have a good enough rate in a non-ally deck, but might be acceptable in small numbers when backed up by other allies. I don't think he quite has the power level to make our aggressive shell, but he might find a home somewhere.
Realistically a 4/5 first strike creature is very strong, but of course, that is balanced out by this needing lands to fuel that particular statline. The good news there, is that you can abuse the rule by coming up with more than one landfall trigger in a turn, such as with Blighted Woodland. I think this particular landfall creature won't see a ton of play, but he isn't far off.
This is a bit of a strange card due to the wording necessary to allow your animated land to attack, but I could see it being useful somewhere. Five mana for a 4/4 hasty, lifelink creature is actually a pretty good deal and while we don't get that lifelink after this turn, giving all of our other attackers lifelink should more than make up for that. I will be interested to see where this picks up play because it is kind of an odd card but still powerful.
So no one needs me to tell them how to build around a sweeper, but Planar Outburst does bring the awaken mechanic to the table, which is an interesting one as now our End Hostilities doubles as a win condition. In general, I don't think you can count on a vanilla 4/4 to be a win condition alone, as it is going to die to too many things so, truth be told, you probably are just running this in the same spots that End Hostilities was run in and then enjoying the bonus if and when it comes up.
While I hate the fact that this has to use counters on it, it is worth noting that you Commander players can abuse that fact with Doubling Season for some awesome results. In Standard, this can be quite the powerhouse as six mana gets you two Oblivion Rings and it scales from there. While the initial price tag of four mana for a single O-Ring is steep, having card advantage built in is just so huge. Most white control decks and midrange decks will at least consider this card, so expect to see a lot of it.
In Modern, we might see this played in Blue/White Tron potentially although this is competing with a lot of other powerful cards in that world.
Retreat to Emeria
This cycle of enchantments with landfall is pretty cool. I am not sure how much play each will see, but they all have the potential to, at least. Here, a 1/1 every turn for four mana is not bad, although that alone would probably not be good enough. The Anthem effect gives me hope though as that expands the number of decks trying to use this by a lot. Keep in mind that the token is an ally, so perhaps some midrange ally deck, or just a landfall based aggro deck that can trigger this twice in a turn for +2/+2 to its team.
While the effect on this is rather powerful, five mana is asking a lot for it. Even as a sideboard card, I can't really imagine someone using this over Planar Outburst or Crux of Fate.
Another ally that you might miss upon first reading. This is cheap enough to be considered for our aggressive deck that we have been working on, although I fear that the ability is too often thrown away. Even if you manage to trigger it, which isn't a given, you also have to have a white mana up to take advantage. I'm sure the card was unreasonably good without that clause, but it does make abusing this much more difficult.
When I worked on Soul Sisters, the fact that Ajani's Pridemate could go off, gaining six +1/+1 counters in a turn was a big draw. The Steward cannot really ever live that dream, which hurts its applications, but perhaps the relevant creature type makes up for that.
Wind Drake by any other name... Not much to say here. This has no relevant creature types and is far from rate of what is desired in Constructed, so I think we can all agree to swipe left here.
This is probably a little too expensive and conditional to be a big contender in Constructed, but there is some implied card advantage once you awaken this, so who knows. Although I probably should have just stuck to my joke about this causing a Sheer Drop in your win percentage.
Smite the Monstrous
This gets reprinted every other set it feels like and it never really finds a home in Constructed. Being four mana makes this a clunky removal spell at best and there is no real combo or build around potential in a clunky removal spell.
This is a pretty fun card. While we lose the ability to hit anything in the way Oblivion Ring and Banishing Light can, we instead pick up instant speed, which quickly shifts this to a much more control-style of card. Being able to keep open your counter magic mana and then swerving to this instead makes it akin to what Hero's Downfall offered us in Standard for the past two years. While we have Ruinous Path now, we lost the instant speed portion, giving cards like Stasis Snare a real place in the metagame. (I do wish we had had a flash enchantment like this while constellation was a thing though).
On top of that, this is a natural pairing with Starfield of Nyx and the enchantment deck is looking more and more real. Here is a rough start to what that might look like:
4 Myth Realized
4 Quarantine Field
4 Stasis Snare
4 Sigil of the Empty Throne
3 Planar Outburst
4 Starfield of Nyx
From there you can basically add whatever color enchantment package you want, even going into three colors for the Ascendancies.
Stone Haven Medic
Not an ally! Also not very good in the context of most games. You need a reason to want to gain a small amount of life which means we probably have to pair this with the likes of Serene Steward and such. Not super excited by that idea, but it's the best place to go I think.
The two life tacked on to this feels very weird, but it does add a lot of versatility to the card as now we can include in our life gain shells. This is a card that makes Serene Steward acceptable as it gives you an instant speed trigger and provides combat stats for a creature that likely wants such a thing. If heroic were still around, this would be even more appealing, but I do expect it to see a little play from time to time.
The best and probably only real Constructed application for this has to be in an ally tribal deck where this provides you with a bunch of ally triggers at once. Granted, many of those triggers do not stack, but some of them do. Pair this with Tajuru Warcaller for up to +8/+8 to your entire squad which is not insignificant. Manabases will be able to do a lot of crazy things in the coming months, so why shouldn't allies get in on the action?
White comes away with some interesting stuff in this set which I suppose needs to happen when you are running up against Eldrazi overlords for your survival. The new take on allies is interesting and could really lead to an ally deck in Standard, especially if more are printed in the next set. If I had to pick one flagship card to brew around from white right now though, it definitely has to be Emeria Shepherd, so keep your eyes on her!
That's it for our first day of Battle for Zendikar and our new format. Let me know what you think of the new approach in the comments below? What did you like? What would you change? This is brand new to me so I am definitely looking forward to feedback going forward! Be sure to come back tomorrow where we will be going over the blue cards from the set as well as the artifacts! Thanks for reading!